Countless people have entered AA because they had a desire to not drink. People in other fellowships entered because they wanted to stop using drugs or eating compulsively. An early suggestion to these newcomers was to get a copy of the Big Book and read two pages a day. Invariably the newcomer complained about this. “Why do I have to read a book with hundreds of pages? All I want to do is stop using my drug of choice. You could tell me how to do that in less than one page”. They are actually correct on this point. If the program were only about not drinking or drugging, a magazine article at most would have sufficed. But, the Big Book and the program are much more. They are literally about a new way of living where we undergo a psychic change. It is about developing a connection with a G-d of our understanding. Through the program we learn about emotional sobriety and all that it entails. Part of that sobriety is a daily review of our actions and making amends where necessary. We also learn about the necessity of doing service. In reality, given all it contains, it’s pretty amazing that the Big Book is as short as it is.
Personal Reflection: What did I learn from the Big Book today?
There were many who entered the program with the goal of controlling their drinking, drugging or binge eating. They had no intention of practicing any type of abstinence. After a while, they realized that “controlled” using was antithetical to the program. Accepting this fact, they embarked on their journey towards sobriety. Shortly thereafter, another question was raised in their minds. They queried, “if the only reason you entered the program was to stop your drinking and drugging, why do you continue to attend meetings year after year”? As they gained a little more sobriety they soon were able to answer their own question. Listening carefully at meetings, they realized that the majority of shares had nothing to do with alcohol, drugs or food. Rather, people spoke about many other areas. There was a lot of discussion about personal defects of character and what people were doing to correct them. People also shared about life situations where they needed advice as to how to proceed. Sometimes members just reviewed their gratitudes or accomplishments from the day. It emerged that meetings provided a daily dose of guidance on how to navigate life. They also found that after sharing, they inevitably felt better.
Personal Reflection: What have I gained from the program beyond abstinence?
When we first entered the program we burned with a fire of commitment. We just loved going to meetings. It was so liberating being able to share our deepest feelings openly with the group. Learning that we were not unique was also very helpful. Listening to others and identifying deeply was validating for us. Physically we could feel our health improving on a daily basis. As we immersed ourselves in the program we created an expanding social network of friends. Our relationship with our sponsor evolved into something that we tapped into on a daily basis.
Over time, much of that initial pink cloud began to wear off. As we reintegrated ourselves back into our lives, more and more distractions arose. Obligations of work and family began to seep in. Meetings began to be skipped. Calls to our sponsor went unmade. Hopefully at this point our sponsor had a heart to heart with us. Basically he or she told us that our sobriety had to come first. Experience of countless others who came before us had shown this to be true. When people said they had a daily reprieve, this was only because they had worked their program that day. If we didn’t keep our sobriety our priority, it would in short order be lost.
Personal Reflection: Do I keep my sobriety first?
It is obvious that not everyone who drinks needs to go to AA. There are millions of people the world over who are social drinkers and will remain so for the duration of their lives.The same holds true in relationship to food. Overeating at a restaurant or stuffing yourself at a smorgasbord does not mean that you immediately qualify for OA. Without getting into a legal or moral debate, there are countless people who can use drugs recreationally without issues of addiction.
Then of course there are the people who belong in a fellowship. For them, alcohol, food or drugs might have initially been used socially. However, over time the patterns of usage of the substance changed. More of it was consumed and the frequency of use increased. It often reached a point where the quality of life of the user and those around them began to decline due to drugs alcohol or food. Substances became the “antidote” to the vicissitudes of life. Even when we wanted to stop we found we could not do so.
In program we finally learned that we could not drink or drug safely. We could no longer use substances to buffer life. As we began to live one day at a time; we started to feel the exhilaration of life on life’s terms; and no longer needed to deaden ourselves with food, drugs and alcohol.
Personal Reflection: Am I enjoying my reality?
Growth in the programs of AA, NA and OA is a process. It took a long time for many of us to make it into the rooms. Some of us were mandated to be there. Others were still using in the early days of attending meetings. After many struggles we finally put down our drug of choice. Perhaps we were surprised when an old timer told us that we were just at the beginning of our journey. Not drinking, drugging or binging did not mean we were truly sober. True sobriety was something that grew within us as we began to work the program. Meetings and having a sponsor were important elements which contributed to that growth. Our emotional sobriety really began to flourish as we seriously engaged in step work. For the first time in our lives, we honestly examined our character defects. Where necessary, we made amends to people we had harmed. Over time we deepened our relationship with our Higher Power. We called upon Him more and more as we admitted our ultimate powerlessness. Then one day after much work we began to truly understand the concept of “accepting the things we cannot not change”. In that moment we learned about serenity.
Personal Reflection: What helps contribute to my serenity?
In our active days, we looked down our noses at anyone who wasn’t drinking or drugging. Quite frankly we found you to be boring and unexciting. In our minds,the truly “cool” people were the ones who were using. We were definitely one of the cool and hip ones. You non users definitely were not.
When we finally entered sobriety many of us got a bit depressed. How were we going to enjoy life now that we had given up our drug of choice. We had left the ranks of the cool, and had joined the boring sober people.
Then something interesting happened. At a meeting, we got invited to our first sober party. Initially we thought that using the words sober and party in the same sentence was a contradiction in terms. However we went. To our great surprise we had a blast. We could still do and say all kinds of crazy things while maintaining our sobriety. We didn’t need alcohol or drugs to be one of the cool ones. We could be sober and still be a cool and interesting person. Our uniqueness could be tapped without the aid of a drink or a drug. We did just fine in social conversation without the use of a substance to help lubricate the flow. By the end of the evening we realized that this sobriety thing really could work for us.
Personal Reflection: What does fun look like in sobriety?
Everybody has a bad day. We claim to have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed. Perhaps we are a little more irritable than we normally are. It seems that for some reason more stressful situations than usual head our way. All of this is nothing out of the ordinary. All of us at one time or another have one of those days.
What is of concern is when we repeatedly enter the day in a negative state, and it just goes downhill from there. When we were using, at least we had the excuse of a massive hangover.
If you want to consider yourself emotionally sober, there is no excuse for waking up in a state of negativity and resentment. Our emotional state upon awakening and throughout the day is an inside job. Yes, of course we will have difficult days. What is important to note is that we have a choice on how to respond. Old timers put it very bluntly. After hearing our rant about what a horrible day we had; will turn to us and simply say, “time to get off the pity pot”.
Personal Reflection: What kind of day am I going to have today?
Sobriety is not a magic wand. Unfortunately some of us thought that it was when we came into the program. While we were active we faced a myriad of problems often the result of our own doing. We were so excited when we entered the program. We really thought that it would be smooth sailing now that we gave up our drug of choice. No doubt things were better. Many of the situations caused by our addiction no longer took place. However, to our dismay there were many other challenges in our lives that now occurred totally unrelated to alcohol, food or drugs. We embarked on new challenges and sometimes met failure. Of course while we were active, we had encountered failures as well. We thought we could chalk these up to our addiction. Now, we were still encountering failure, and could no longer blame a substance as the cause. Listening in meetings to other people share we gained new perspectives on these failures. One of them was that failure kept us humble. In the past, part of our modus operandi was to be arrogant and full of pride. Usually this was bravado or our denial of what was really happening. In sobriety, failures acted as a reality check for us. We were not perfect and would continue to make mistakes and fail sometimes. What was also now different is that we got up, dusted ourselves off and moved forward.
Personal Reflection: How do I deal with failure?
Those of us who have been around awhile still make a lot of meetings. The reasons why we go today are different from when we first came in. Back then, it was all about putting down our drug of choice. We had the support of the fellowship to help us get through a day without picking up. Gratefully, that obsessive urge to use has lifted. Even so we don’t delude ourselves. We know that the meetings help us maintain our sobriety.
These days we go to to meetings for other reasons as well. We very much enjoy the camaraderie of the membership. Where else can you go and get to share your innermost feelings without fear of being judged. We also enjoy helping newcomers and others In the program who are still struggling. We have come to understand the value of service. Perhaps the most important reason for attending meetings has to do with emotional sobriety. All of those character defects which we possessed still raise their heads in one manner or another on a daily basis. New layers of emotional sobriety get laid down every time we go to a meeting. When we don’t make meetings, those same layers get ripped up. To build or sober emotional core, we need to commit to regular attendance at meetings.
Personal Reflection: Am I making enough meetings?
There will be days that you feel like you are in a state of flow. Every light is green on your way to work. The boss loves your proposal even though it’s only a first draft. You try a new recipe and it comes out perfectly. We all have had one of those days or some variation thereof. Then of course, we experience the opposite. It seems like everything we try to do that day goes wrong. It just seems like one series of mishaps after another. For the average person, we have some degree of understanding that flow days and mishap days are just a part of life.
For the alcoholic, drug or food addict, our brains are calibrated differently. We used to believe that flow days were largely attributable to our drug of choice, until that drug stopped working for us. When we were having a “bad” day we often sought out that drug, drink or food for soothing and solace.
In sobriety, there are of course going to be mishap days. They are just a part of life. It’s just that we no longer can turn to drugs or alcohol to take the edge off. Instead we call our sponsor, go to a meeting or do service. This is far more effective than white knuckling it. “Hanging in there” for us means tapping into our tools of sobriety.
Personal Reflection: What does my version of hang in there look like?